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And lo! the dazzling picture Every tree
Then the gray snow-cloud from the dim Southwest
For Poverty !—here shivering in sheds,
Then the bland wind comes winnowing from the South,
Yet is he not a foe. Behold, he casts
I. PERHAPs some of our readers are still ignorant of the meaning of the term Transcendentalism. We will, for their sakes, attempt a definition. Transcendentalism is that form of Philosophy which sinks God and Nature in man. Let us explain. God, man, and nature, in their mutual and harmonious relations (if indeed the absolute God may be said ever to be in relations) are the objects of all philosophy; but, in different theories, greater or less prominence is given to one or the other of these three, and thus systems are formed. Pantheism sinks man and nature in God; Materialism sinks God and man in the universe; Transcendentalism sinks God and nature in man. In other words, some, in philosophising, take their point of departure in God alone, and are inevitably conducted to Pantheism;-others take their point of departure in nature alone, and are led to Materialism; others start with man alone, and end in Transcendentalism. It is by no means difficult to deny in words, the actual existence of the outward universe. We may say, for example, that the paper on which we write has no more outward existence than the thoughts we refrain from expressing; we may af. firm that it has merely a different kind of existence within our soul. When I say 1 perceive an outwardly existing tree, I may be mistaken; what I call a tree may have no outward existence, but may, on the contrary, be created by my perception. Who knows that a thing which appears red to me may not appear blue to my neighbor If so, then is color something which I lend to the object. But why stop at color: Perhaps hardness and weight have no existence save that which the mind gives. “Whether nature enjoy a substantial existence without (says Mr. Emerson), or is only in the apocalypse of the mind, it is alike useful and alike venerable to me. Be it what it may, it is ideal to me so long as I cannot try the accuracy of my senses.” “What differs it to me (he asks on another page) whether Orion be up there in heaven, or some god paint the image in the firmament of the soul?’”
Fabre d’Olivet believed the outward
universe to be so dependent upon the individual soul that we might properly be said to create it ourselves. He thought that we ourselves produced all forms and the world, that we might create whatever we would, isolatedly and instantaneously, and hoped to construct a system of magic on this fact as a basis. In truth, if all outward things depend for their being and manner of existence upon ourselves, and upon our inward states, a change in those states involves a change in outward nature. (If we discover, there: fore, the connection of our thoughts and feelings with outward nature, the whole universe is in our power; and we may, by a modification of ourselves, change the world from its present state into what we all wish it might become. Mr. Alcott thinks the world would be what it should be were he only as holy as he
should be; he also considers himself per
sonally responsible for the obliquity of / the axis of the earth. A friend once told me, while we watched the large flakes of snow as they were slowly falling, that, could we but attain to the right spiritual state, we should be able to look on outward nature, and say, “I snow, I rain.” To Mr. Emerson a noble doubt perpetually suggests itself, “whether nature outwardly exists.” In the eighth number of the Dial we find a beautiful poem touching upon this theory, from which we make an extract:—
“All is but as it seems
“The great world goeth
* Essays: Second Series. By R. W. Emerson. Boston: James Munroe & Co. 1844,
Thine is the dark wood sleeping in
“Nothing is if thou art not.
Thus man is made to be the only real existence, and outward nature a mere phenomenon dependent upon him. Man exists really, actually, absolutely; but nature is an accident, an appearance, a consequent upon the existence of the human soul. Thus is the universe sunk, swallowed up, in man. / The concluding lines of the extract are an example of the Transcendental Theology, an example of the swallowing up of God in man.
“Thou art under, over all;
Materialism makes man the result of organization, denying the existence of separate and individual souls, and thus sinks man in nature: it also identifies God with the active powers of the universe. As Pantheism sinks man and nature in God, as Materialism sinks God and man in the universe, so Transcendentalism sinks God and nature in man. It must be confessed, however, that our Transcendentalists are, by no means, consistent. Sometimes they express themselves in a way that leaves us in doubt whether they are not, at bottom, Materialists. . For example, the poem from which the foregoing extracts are quoted, is followed by another, of the same author, made up of beautiful and clear statements, where, in the midst of explicit repudiations of Transcendentalism, traces of the sensual system of D' Holbach are distinctly visible. We quote a few lines:—
“Dost thou dream that thou art free,
One nerve tortures and maddens thee,
Here the soul is evidently sunk in nature; it is, to use a mathematical expression, spoken of as a function of the universe. II. Having spoken of some of the peculiar characteristics of the Transcendental school of philosophy, we shall now take occasion to say a few words concerning its origin and progress. But here it will be necessary to speak of the philosoph of Kant, a subject not easily handled. The fundamental postulate of the philosopher of Königsberg may, however, initiate the reader into the whole system. Here it is, as near as we recollect it.
“If any truth be present to the mind with a conviction of its universality and necessity, that truth was derived to the mind from its own operations, and does not rest upon observation and experience: “And, conversely, if any truth be present to the mind with a conviction of its contingency, that truth was derived to the mind from observation and experience, and not from the operations of the mind itself.”
For example, we know that every effect must have its cause, and this truth lies in the mind with a conviction of its universality and necessity; this truth is derived, therefore, not from observation and experience, but from the operations of the mind itself; it is born not from outward nature, but in and from the mind itself. In other words, to pass to the technology of the Scotch School, we are forced by the very constitution of our being, to admit this truth, so that the principle of causation may be said to be a law of our intellectual natures. On the other hand, we say, we know the sun will rise to-morrow ; but we are not absolutely certain of this fact. This second truth lies therefore in our minds with a conviction of its contingency, and not of its necessity, and is, consequently, not derived from a law of our intellectual natures, but from observation and experience. By every fact of experience a revelation is made to the soul, not only of the idea which it has appropriated to itself, but also of those conditions of the external world, and of its own nature, which rendered that acquisition possible. For example, when we perceive moonlight, it is necessary, first, that there should be something out of us to produce the effect of moonlight upon our sensibility; and also, second, certain internal faculties which are receptive of the influences of moonlight. Without the outward object there is no perception, and without the inward faculties there is likewise no perception; for the moon shines upon the trees as well as upon me, but the trees do not perceive, being devoid of the perceiving faculty. Now the idea I have of moonshine might have been modified by a change either, first, in the outward object, or, second, in my perceiving faculty. Had the moonshine been different, it would have produced a different effect upon my sensibility, and, consequently, the idea would have been different. Had my perceiving power been different, the influence or effect of the moonshine would have been different, and the idea resulting would likewise have been different. All this is plain. Now the faculties of the mind are permanent, and always operate in the same manner; therefore, the truths given by the faculties, where nothing from the external world intervenes, are universal and necessary. But the outward world is always changing; therefore, the truths given by observation and experience are always contingent. Perhaps we can make this plainer by an illustration. Our readers have undoubtedly seen machines for cutting nails; if they have not, the consequence is by no means grave, for the instrument may be easily described. A nail-machine is composed of a pair of shears, which are made to work up and down, sometimes by steam, sometimes by water-power. A man stands before the machine and inserts the end of an iron plate between the two parts of the shears when they open—when the shears shut, they cut off a nail from this plate, and this nail depends for its size and shape upon the form of the shears.-The machine is in operation.
The plate is inserted, and the machine says, I perceive something hard, black, ... ', at is this something I perceive 2 Down come the shears, the nail is cut off, and rattles away into the box. Ah, has says the machine, I now begin to see into the mystery of those same perceptions of which I was conscious a moment ago. It was a tenpenny nail, it is long, four-sided, sharp at one end, and flat at the other. By this time the shears come down again, and the machine says, another tenpenny nail, by all that is glorious ! This aquisition of knowledge is beginning to be interesting—I must know a little more of the philosophy of this business. So the machine goes on to soliloquise.—Listen I have now, says the machine, in my experience, memory, or nail box, several tenpenny nails. These were undoubtedly acquired from the external world, and are all that I have as yet acquired from that world. Therefore, if aught beside tenpenny nails exist in the external world, I have no conception of such existence, and that world is, consequently, for me, a collection of tenpenny nails. The following appear, therefore, to be unvarying laws of actual existence: first, all things are long and four sided, and second, all things are sharp at one end, and flat at the other. But stop says the machine—let us beware of hasty inductions. An idea strikes me! About these same nails, I am not so clear that they were not formed by the concurrent action of two agents. Perhaps the material was furnished by external nature, while the form resulted from the law of my nature, the constitution of my shears, of my own nailmaking being. The following conclusion, at least, cannot be shaken :-I may look upon every nail from two distinct points of view—first, as to its material, and second, as to its form; the material undoubtedly comes from without, and is variable ; some nails are of brass, some are of iron; but the form is invariable, and comes from within. All my nails must be long, and four sided, and that universally and necessarily ; but the material may vary, being sometimes brass, sometimes iron. This is plain; for I acquire all my nails according to the law of my nail-making being; that is, being translated from scientific into popular language, according to the form of my shears. After mature deliberation, I think I may take the following postulate as the foundation of all my ulterior philosophy.
“Whatever I may find in my nail-box, whether nails, or whatever else relating to nails, if I be convinced that it is what it is necessarily, and must be as it is universally, that same thing, whatever it be, was not derived to my nail-box from external nature, but finds the reason of its existence in the formation and shape of my shears.
“And, conversely, whatever I may find in that same nail-box, which is neither necessary nor universal, but variable and contingent, has its origin, and the reason of its existence, not in the formation and shape of my shears, but in the external world.”
Having relieved itself of this postulate, the machine continues its meditations in silence.
The difference between the postulate of the nail-machine and that of the Königsberg philosopher, is by no means 5. Let us use them both in eneavouring to get a clearer conception of the position of our transcendental friends.
Do we not see all material objects under the relations of space 2 Is not space a necessary and universal form of all our sensible perceptions But what says the postulate The notion of space cannot come from the external world; for, if it did, it would not be attended with the conviction of universality and necessity with which it is attended. The notion of space comes then from the mind, and not at all from the outward world. (We speak as a Kantian.) Space then has no outward existence, and the supposition that it has, is the merest hypothesis imaginable. The arguments brought to prove such a position fall at once to the ground, for we have before proved that all our notion of space comes from within ; and any inference from the within to the without, is utterly invalid. We may treat time in the same manner, for time is the medium in which, universally and necessarily, we perceive events. Sensible objects and events, are the iron, brass, the material of ideas— space and time are the form impressed by the shears. After all, what can we make of time and space Simply this: time and space are the color of the intellectual spectacles through which we look on outward nature; they have no real existence, but are a distorting medium which we spread before our eyes
whenever we look on the outward. (We give the Kantean statement.) But it is impossible for any one to remain satisfied amid the skepticisms which arise from a denial of the real existence of space and time. If space and time are mere distorting media, through which we perceive outward nature, all our sensible perceptions are erroneous; and, if no new method of acquiring knowledge can be discovered, we may as well doubt of every thing. What shall we do then : This is the question asked by our Transcendentalists. The first course which presents itself to the mind is that of en. deavoring to eliminate the elements of space j time from all our conceptions: but this is evidently impossible: we must, therefore, endeavor to transcend them. But how can we transcend space and time This also is evidently impossible; and the nearest approach to such a transcendent position, is a selfdeception by which we persuade ourselves that we have attained it, while we ignore every thing that tends to convince us that we are on the same standpoint with other men. The confused system of things seen from the point of view which seems to transcend space and time, gives us Transcendentalism. But why will this system sink God and nature in man For this reason—When a man has cut himself off from every thing which is not himself, (which he must do if he attempt to transcend space and time) he must find the reason of all things in himself. But the reason of God and the universe are not to be found in man, and, if we seek them there, we shall deny both God and the universe, putting some chimera, which does find its reason in man, in their place and stead. Transcendentalism is, therefore, a sort of human Pantheism, requiring a conception of contradictions in the same subject. To follow a transcendental writer, we must not endeavor to find the logical connection of his sentences, for there is no such logical connection, and the writer himself never intended there should be. We ought rather to transcend space and time (if indeed we can,) and follow him there. A transcendentalist never reasons; he describes what he sees from his own point of view. So the word Transcendentalism relates not to a system of doctrines but to a point of view; from which, nevertheless, a system of doctrines may be deduced. This explains to us why so many, whose desires were right, have